- Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics by Michael J. Socolow
Michael J. Socolow's Six Minutes in Berlin tells the story of the University of Washington's rowing triumph at the 1936 Berlin olympic Games. While daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat also covers this event, Socolow's work goes further than Brown's. Socolow delves into the history of mass communication and argues the 1936 Games marked a pivotal moment in media and Olympic history. A professor in the Communication and Journalism School at the University of Maine, Socolow specializes in the history of radio in the early decades of the twentieth century, and his background working in broadcasting further enriches the story.
One of Socolow's primary goals is to shed more light on the influence of the 1936 Berlin games on media history. He cites a massive void in research from American and English scholars on the topic of media around the 1936 games. In his mind, this is problematic for several reasons. The first is that the system employed at Berlin continues to be used and "[a]ll global sports broadcasting … remains deeply indebted to the model developed in Berlin" (211). Socolow cites the work of German scholars as an example of the ability to [End Page 139] combine a grudging respect for the significance of Berlin with revulsion toward the Nazi government and its policies.
In the space of five lengthy sections, Socolow transitions seamlessly from covering the experience of the Washington rowers to the rivalry between the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) at the Berlin Games. He views rowing and radio as mutual influences in each other's success. The ten years leading up to the Berlin games was "radio's developmental decade," and he contends that rowing "played an influential yet forgotten role in the development of U.S. sports broadcasting" (30). There is a sense that Socolow views the Washington rowers as the forgotten athletes of the 1936 Games, buried under the weight of Jesse Owens's legacy. While not discrediting Owens, Socolow argues that using the framework of Owens's achievement to analyze the 1936 games as "humanistic superiority" triumphing over the racist Nazi's risks "hindering research and limiting the complexity of the historical record" (211).
Answering his own challenge, Socolow uses the Washington rowing team to structure his argument and provide a narrative that credits the achievements of the Nazi government within the specific scope of radio and media history. His use of interviews with surviving members of the team lends the back stories he provides an authenticity at times lacking in historical work. One can sense the passion that Socolow has for the subject, as he has a tendency to use phrases unique to rowing without explaining their significance. While these likely come naturally for the author since he was a collegiate rower at Columbia, for the uninformed reader they raise questions rather than adding nuance to his argument or flair to his story.
Socolow strikes a strong balance between telling a thrilling tale while simultaneously providing a new and significant argument. One mark of this triumph is that the appeal of this work spans a wide spectrum. Colleagues in Socolow's field will find this a useful addition to the historiography, while undergraduate and graduate students in various academic fields would benefit from this text. Socolow makes a call for other media scholars to follow in his footsteps in critically assessing the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Six Minutes in Berlin provides a sturdy first step toward achieving this goal.